Monday, 2 July 2012

Shirred Sundress tutorial

Today I would like to show you how to make a shirred sundress. This dress is so simple to make it is perfectly doable even if you are new to dressmaking.
 I love this style of dress because it is flattering on pretty much any type of figure and very comfortable to wear on a hot summer's day (should you live in a country that actually gets more than one of those a year!)

You will need:
  • fabric (just follow the instructions in step one to determine exactly how much you will need)
  • shirring elastic
  • tape measure
  • standard sewing equipment

It is always a good idea to prewash fabrics when dressmaking. Just wash the fabric as you intend to wash the finished garment, this ensures any fabric bleeding problems or shrinkage has been caught before you finish your dress.

Shirred Sundress Tutorial

Step 1 - simple maths
* I  am using inches for this tutorial but it works exactly the same in centimeters if this is what you are more comfortable with 1" = 2.54 cm.

The dress consists of two rectangles, easy peasy no pattern needed all you need to do is determine two measurements.
The first thing you need to know is your bust measurement.
  • Wrap a tape measure around the fullest part of your bust, do not pull tight you want some ease there so you still have room to breathe and such ;). Write the number down.
  • Now take your bust measurement, multiply by 1.5 and add seam allowance (any size you are most comfortable with) mine are 3\8" x 2 = 3\4"
 bust x 1.5 + seam allowance =  
    •   Divide the outcome by 2
      I will use my own measurements as an example:
      34" x 1.5 + 3\4"= 51 3\4"

      51 3\4" : 2 = 25 7\8" I am just going to round that up to 26" once the dress is shirred it will not make much difference.

      Now we have determined measurement A - the width of our rectangle. Next we need to determine the length of the dress.
        •  Take a tape measure and measure from the top of your bust down to wherever you would like your dress to hit, don't forget to stand up straight!
        • Add 1 1\2" seam allowance for the top, and 3" for the bottom hem. This is measurement B
        • Cut two rectangles A x B
        I am not sure what length I like best yet so I am just going to use the length of my fabric and cut two rectangles 26" wide. It is easy to trim back the length later once the shirred top is finished or leave it long and have a maxi dress.

        Step 2 - side seams and hems
        • Fold over the top hem by 1\2" twice, press, pin and sew close to the edge. 

        It is important to finish the top hem before you start shirring because once that is done it will be near impossible to get a straight hem.
        • With right sides facing pin side seams and sew. Neaten raw edges with an overlock or zig zag stitch.
        • Fold over the bottom hem twice by 1". Press, pin and sew close to the edge. If you are undecided on the length of your dress like me you can save this step till last.

        Step 3 - shirring preparation
        Now for the fun bit, lets transform this shapeless fabric sack into a dress!

        For those of you new to shirring it is nothing more than sewing with elastic in your bobbin case instead of thread. This creates lots of gathering and adds elasticity to your fabric. It is a highly useful technique in dressmaking, it adds shape to your garment without the need for closures, I love it!

         The one thing to remember is to always keep your fabric facing right side up when shirring so that the elastic will be on the inside of your garment

        • First you will need to wind your bobbins with shirring elastic by hand, do not pull the elastic taut just hold it firmly in your hand and start winding. You want to wind up the bobbins so that the elastic sits firmly but without stretching it.  Best not to think too much about it, the elastic is thicker than normal thread so it will go quicker than you think. I like to wind a couple in one go, for this dress I needed 3 bobbins to complete the top.
        • Place the bobbin in the bobbin case as usual and pull up the thread.
        • Now you will need to play around with some test fabric first to find which settings work best on your machine. As a rule you will want to lengthen your stitch length, I set mine to 3. You may want to slightly lower your upper thread tension, on some machines you may have to set it slightly higher - on mine it stays the same. So again, play around with some test fabric to see what works best for you.
        On most machines shirring will go just fine, if however you run into any issues they are most commonly tension related. Google is your friend here there are many tips and tricks out there for solving these issues on different machine makes, too many to list for this tutorial. Some of them suggest to adjust the tension on your bobbin case by loosening or tightening the little screw. There is much debate over whether or not you should do this as it may upset some machines. It really is up to you to decide whether or not this is worth the trouble. All I can say about it is I have adjusted my bobbin case tension successfully in the past and my machine still sews just fine :)

        Step 4 - Shirring
        • Place your fabric under the presser foot, right side up and start sewing close to the top hem. You can back stitch at the beginning and end as usual. 

        •  Sew parallel lines next to your first line of shirring, using the edge of your presser foot as a guide. I switched the needle to the far left position.
        The first line will not bunch up much but as you sew more lines the fabric will start to gather up nicely. Make sure your fabric does not double up and keep guiding it flat under the presser foot, you will need two hands to pull the fabric flat as it starts gathering up more.

        Little mistakes will not matter much they will hardly be noticeable once your dress is done, so do not worry much over a wobbly seam, it will be fine :) If you run out of elastic thread, just back stitch over the bit where you left off and carry on sewing.

        How many rows of shirring you need depends on your bust size, I needed 15 rows. Try the dress on a few times to determine from which point you like your dress to flare out, it will be a good few inches above your natural waist line.

        At this point you might be a little worried because especially the top hem will look rather untidy.  A good press will take care of this in no time!


        •  Give the right side of the fabric a good steam press, this will fully allow the fabric to succumb to your shirring and pull everything nice and tightly together. 

        Step 5 -Straps

        Strap length, style and width is very much a personal preference. You could easily wear this dress strapless but it also looks great with halterneck style straps or regular shoulder straps.
        • Try your dress on with your favourite bra underneath (if that is how you will be wearing yours of course!) now measure how wide the straps need to be to cover up your bra straps. Measure, or better still get someone else to measure, how long the straps should be and place pins where the straps should be sewn to your dress.
        I am opting for 1" wide straps. I cut 4" x the length of my straps.  Fold and press the strap in half, then press towards the center to enclose the raw edges, fold in half and press again. 
        Top stitch close to the edge on both sides.

        • If like me you do not have a helper, make straps longer than you will need and pin them to the back of your dress. Put the dress on and pull the straps towards the front. Check if you pinned the back straps correctly, if not adjust. Once the back of the straps are pinned in place properly it is easy to pin the straps in place on the front. 
        • Sew the straps on securely and neaten raw edges.

        Your dress is now done!

        I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, as always if you make something with one of my tutorials please add photo's to the group pool I love seeing what you come up with!

        Congrats if you made it all to here, you are in for a treat! How about a give away with a chance to win some lovely Ruby Star Spring to make your own shirred sundress? Head on over here for a give away and a special offer from MondaysMilk to my readers :)

        x Leila

        The fabric used in this tutorial was sponsored by MondaysMilk


        1. Just with we had the weather to match the sweet dress!

        2. Great tutorial! Your dress looks fabulous!

        3. Great tutorial and dress. I've made two shirred skirts in the past but they just didn't suit me when on. They made me look like a dwarf with a very large bottom. Needless to say I've never worn them lol

        4. fantastic tutorial and what a lovely dress!

        5. What a great tute, and dress!! It looks fab on you. I think I'll make one for my daughter. I am looking forward to some fabric 'succumbing to my shirring' (loved that line!). I bought a few spools of elastic thread after reading a shirred top tute two years ago and it is, of course, still curing in my sewing case.

        6. Great tutorial! That dress looks fabulous on you !

        7. This looks great! I tried one last summer, but my old machine totally screwed up the shirring, and so I have a half shirred dress that I haven't been able to bring myself to unshir and try again yet...

        8. Wow that is such a simple way to make a dress....I think I have some elastic left over actually...I may have to try it out one day =D

        9. Ok, you talked me into it. I've been afraid to try garment sewing but I SO love this dress and your tutorial seems amazing! I'm totally going to do it!

        10. Gorgeous! I made one using the Heather Ross pattern a few years ago, just need the warm weather to make it worth wearing!

        11. Wonderful dress! Wonderful tutorial! I plan to make this before the summer is out!i

        12. Thank you very much for this great tutorial.
          I will absolutely make myself such a lovely dress. As we have just moved from Germany to Brazil, I could really need it! ;)

        13. Thanks for the clear and simple tutorial. I can't manage to get photo's to upload to flicr, but despite my luddite tendencies I have managed to blog about the dress I made with your help.

        14. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial! <3

        15. I think I love the material as much as the pattern!! Beautiful!!

        16. Brilliant tutorial, thanks so much! I'm itching to have a go at shirring and I love your comments about little mistakes not mattering - a real confidence booster!


        Your comments make my day :-)